Understandably sometimes Ministers aren't keen to point out how much power has been taken from them to make decisions by the European Union. But the Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has chosen to highlight the way the EU has quietly taken over the planning system. Rather than ignore this problem Mr Pickles has made a statement to MPs warning of proposed further EU red tape.
Environmental Impact Assessments are a European Union requirement which impose significant costs on the planning system, over and above long-standing, domestic environmental safeguards in planning law.
Certainly there is some "gold plating" involved he proposes to help councils avoid it:
It has become apparent that some local planning authorities require detailed assessment of all environmental issues irrespective of whether EU Directives actually require it; similarly, some developers do more than is actually necessary to avoid the possibility of more costly legal challenges which add delays and cost to the application process. Consequently, my Department will be consulting in 2013 on the application of thresholds for development going through the planning system in England, below which the Environmental Impact Assessment regime does not apply. This will aim to remove unnecessary provisions from our Regulations, and to help provide greater clarity and certainty on what EU law does and does not require.
Yet he does not pretend that it is all a misunderstanding. He is also clear that the reality is that the EU burdens are immense in terms of cost and delay:
There are an increasing number of Directives which have implications for land use planning. In addition to the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive other EU legislation which impacts (or may shortly impact) on the planning system includes the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, Flooding Directive, Habitats Directive, Wild Birds Directive, Waste Framework Directive, Revised Waste Framework Directive, Seveso II Directive, Public Participation Directive, Renewable Energy Directive, Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, Environmental Noise Directive, Draft Airport Noise Regulation, Energy Efficiency Directive, Draft Regulation on trans-European energy infrastructure, Water Framework Directive, Air Quality Directive and the draft Soil Framework Directive.
The European Union does not have competence on land use planning, although it does have competence in relation to the environment but as is evident from that list, increasingly, its regulatory creep is imposing additional and expensive requirements on the planning system. Indeed, as outlined in the Written Ministerial Statement of 25 July 2012, Official Report, House of Lords, Column WS66-68, rulings from the European Court of Justice on the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive have added significant delay and complexity for the UK Parliament to move ahead with the proposed abolition of the last Government’s Regional Spatial Strategies.
Finally he warns Parliament that the EU is pressing for even more power in this area:
The European Commission has announced that it is seeking to amend the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. The Explanatory Memorandum outlines that the proposals could result in a significant increase in regulation, add additional cost and delay to the planning system, and undermine existing permitted development rights. In addition, the proposal appears inconsistent with the conclusion of the October European Council that it is particularly important to reduce the overall regulatory burden at EU and national levels, with a specific focus on small and medium firms and micro-enterprises. This view was unanimous amongst all EU Heads of Government, who also agreed with the Commission’s commitment to exempt micro-enterprises from EU legislation.
Draft European Union legislation often receives little Parliamentary or public scrutiny. I would encourage Hon. Members to examine carefully this latest proposed increase in EU regulation.
I wish other Ministers would be as candid.